Odds-on choice Tuscan Evening earned her first grade I stakes win when she outfought 2008 female turf champion Forever Together by a half-length in the $250,000 Gamely Stakes (gr. IT) (VIDEO) on the Hollywood Park turf May 29.
Tuscan Evening, who went over the $1 million mark in career earnings, registered her fifth consecutive graded stakes victory for trainer Jerry Hollendorfer and owner William Deburgh.
With Rafael Bejarano aboard, the Irish-bred 5-year-old mare took the lead from pacesetter Cat by the Tale in mid-stretch and held off the late-charging Forever Together, who edged Cat by the Tale for second. The final time was 1:47.30 for the 1 1/8-mile event over a firm turf course.
Tuscan Evening won for the 11th time in 15 starts since arriving in the United States for the 2009 season. She is undefeated in five starts in 2010, rattling off consecutive wins in the Monrovia (gr. IIIT), Buena Vista (gr. IIT), Santa Ana (gr. IIT) and Santa Barbara (gr. IIT) handicaps on the Santa Anita lawn prior to the Gamely. She has won from 6 1/2 furlongs on the hillside to 1 1/4 miles this season.
Tuscan Evening also won for the third time in four tries on the Hollywood turf, her only loss coming in a second-place effort to Ventura in the one-mile Matriarch (gr. IT) Nov. 28, which was her last defeat.
The win was Bejarano’s second in three years in the Gamely. His other win came aboard Precious Kitten in 2008. Bejarano has ridden Tuscan Evening nine times, winning eight.
“Unbelievable,’’ said the rider after his meet-best fifth stakes score. “This mare improves a lot every time. I was supposed to be on the lead, but when I saw (Cat By The Tale) go to the front, I just got my mare to relax."
Tuscan Evening has proved equally adept at winning on the lead or racing close to the pace. So Bejarano showed no panic when Cat by the Tale, breaking from the far outside for Martin Garcia in the field of seven, jumped immediately to the front. Tuscan Evening, in hand, raced in second about a length behind the leader as Cat by the Tale carved mediocre fractions of :24.24, :48.35 and 1:11.84. The field was in close order going into the final turn as Forever Together raced nearer the leaders than she usually does, right behind the first flight in fifth.
At the top of the stretch, Bejarano decided it was time to increase the pressure and Tuscan Evening responded nicely to reach even terms with Cat by the Tale. The latter fought back along the inside as Forever Together ranged into contention with Gotta Have Her stalking along the inside. As they reached mid-stretch, Tuscan Evening put her head in front while Forever Together continued to close in gamely and Gotta Have Her yielded.
Forever Together, ridden by Rajiv Maragh (subbing for the injured Julien Leparoux) edged past a stubborn Cat by the Tale while three wide in deep stretch, but she could not quite match strides with Tuscan Evening, who had her rival's measure under some urging from Bejarano as they approached the wire.
"I was looking for Forever Together and I waited as long as I could," Bejarano said. “I just hit her a couple of times and when she saw that other mare coming, she really dug in. I thought I had a lot of horse left at the end.’’
Hollendorfer said he was not surprised that Tuscan Evening did not get the early lead. She had gone gate-to-wire in her two prior starts, the 1 1/8-mile Santa Ana and the 1 1/4-mile Santa Barbara.
“We couldn’t ask for her to do more than she did today,’’ said Hollendorfer. “We thought we would be on the lead, but I talked to Rafael about it and we agreed that if someone did something different we would adjust and he adjusted perfectly.
“I am very proud of her. She is very game. I don’t think she has a best distance. It was just what the doctor ordered. She’s got tremendous heart, a tremendous kick and a rider that fits her perfectly.’’
Forever Together defeated Cat by the Tale by three-quarters of a length for second, with the fast-closing Well Monied a neck back in fourth after rallying from last on the far outside.
A daughter of Oasis Dream out of the Suave Dancer mare The Faraway Tree bred by Hascombe and Valiant Studs, Tuscan Evening arrived in the U.S. winless in 11 starts while facing top company in her native country. But she has been nothing short of amazing since Hollendorfer took over her conditioning. With the Gamely victory, she increased her career earnings to $1,049,408, all but $82,853 of the total coming in U.S. races.
Augustin Stable's 6-year-old gray mare Forever Together, shipping in from the East, raced superbly in defeat for trainer Jonathan Sheppard. She lost for the fifth consecutive time, however.
Forever Together had made one prior start in 2010, finishing second in the Jenny Wiley Stakes (gr. IIT) at Keeneland April 10. That was her first start since Nov. 6 when she was third in the 2009 Emirates Airline Breeders' Cup Filly and Mare Turf (gr. IT) at Santa Anita, a race she won in 2008 en route to being named champion of the female turf division.
“I’m really delighted,’’ said Sheppard. “I thought she was very game. It’s hard to run down speed at this track, but she gave it a good try.’’
Sent off at odds of 9-10, Tuscan Evening paid $3.80, $2.40,, and $2.10 and the exacta was worth $8.60. Forever Together, the 19-10 second choice, returned $2.80 and $2.20. The first two finishers each carried 123 pounds. Grade II winner Cat by the Tale, weighted at 119, was $3.80 to show.
Well Monied was followed by General Consensus, Gotta Have Her and Princess Haya. Medaglia d'Amour scratched.